Playing the REAL Game

By John Kessel | April 15, 2017, 11:27 p.m. (ET)

 

 

If there was one thing I would ask clubs and schools to change, it is to play far less 6 v 6 at younger ages, if at all, where all but one of the kids stand around and watch the ball. For ALL ages, play much more 1v1 / 2v0 / 1v1+1 / 2v2, and reserve 6 v 6 for older players. It really is that simple. When I see any program doing 6 v 6 with kids under 12, I know we are going to lose many of those kids to boredom, especially boys (girls may be more likely to stay involved for the social aspects).

What is especially sad to see are those organizations who eschew the small-sided game values and promote the adult version of the game as “the real game.”

My children not only played doubles, they coached players younger than themselves. That which you teach, you learn. Karch Kiraly and Misty May, thanks to their parents, both started playing doubles at a young age against adults and did not start playing 6 v 6 until much later.

This desire/tradition of playing the Olympic adult game dramatically slows the learning of our sport. If you want to play an Olympic version of our sport, choose doubles. Kids experience something very different when playing 6 v 6 on an adult-sized court. Professional beach players and coaches competed on a double-sized court. In this video you will see the one rally they had in almost an hour of filming.

 

Your child/player learns by doing, not watching, just like learning to swim/ride a bike/drive a car.

 

But when they are playing 6 v 6, there is one person contacting the ball. Including the bench subs, that’s 23 watching, and not learning. There are so many sporting bodies working to bring back the culture of play was once found in backyards and neighborhoods, where the kids teach themselves. It is the adults, parents and clubs that take this away.

What Other Sports Do
Soccer gets it – showing what adults experience by “being a kid."

Ice hockey gets it. They are playing cross ice on small rinks so the kids get an average of 300 percent more passes, turns and shots; rather than experiencing what a kid feels on an adult sheet of ice.

Basketball gets it; playing countless hours of 1 v 1, 3s cutthroat and 3 v 3. Look around a school gym and see the six or more baskets up, so you play 2 v 2 in hoops, but only one volleyball net – so we play 10 v 10.

Individual sports get it – one skateboard/bike/motorcycle/car per kid ratio. Imagine if there were 20 kids and one bike/board. Kids would not learn effectively and might even just give up. But we do this to the kids in volleyball by having them stand in long lines to pass or spike.

We MUST listen to the formula of the kids, which is 4 + 1 = PLAY. When four kids and one ball get together, they play doubles. We are forcing adult math onto the kids, in 4 kids + 1 Ball + 1 Adult = DRILL. That is a formula that sends kids away from team sport and into individual sports where they learn by doing, failing and doing it again. Watch a skateboard champion fail some 2,000 times until he pulls off the move. No coach, no lines, just doing.

All You Need is a Ribbon or a Rope
In volleyball, all you need is a ribbon or rope and the kids can play 2 v 2; or 3 v 3 with a larger group. Even playing 4 v 4 results in a 33 percent increase in learning by doing. We continue to put our kids into ineffective learning situations by playing 6 v 6. Ask the kids what drill/game they don’t want to stop, and universally you will hear some variation of “Monarch of the Court” or “Speedball;” games that are small-sided. They know they learn by doing, but we keep stealing it away by playing 6 v 6 or even worse, standing in long lines for a single contact.

Does your school program look like these 5th graders? These are two school teams, not all-star club tryout selected teams. Does your club team at 11U look like these boys and girls playing 6 v 6? Want to know why? First, you are playing too much 6 v 6 when they are young. These kids played two- and three-a-side from first to fourth grade while being coached by the oldest elementary grade classmates.

Second, you are drilling too much rather than teaching technique and tactics through small-sided games. Playing the game teaches how to play the game. While they play, you guide their discovery of reading, anticipation and fun. Fun you say? Take a look at this picture from the top basketball program in history, the University of Connecticut women’s team: Play Hard, Play Smart, Have Fun. By my count, 50 percent of the admonition in that record-breaking team’s room is either PLAY or FUN.

Many years ago, I got the first female player from Japan to come play college ball in the United States. In her first week of practice, I found her crying in a foyer by the gym. I assumed she was homesick and asked what was wrong. Her reply changed my coaching. She said through her tears, “I have been playing volleyball for nine years (she was 18 at the time) and this is the first time I have ever had fun.” In this day and age, with so many other options to choose from in both video/TV and in real life, it is important to make sure fun is part of your program’s formula.

The USAV STEM program is designed to help schools learn the science of volleyball for both genders -- then leaves behind 20 balls and a ribbon for the PE teacher to be able to play fun, small-sided games. You can get engineering companies and others to help through their company STEM grant process, and start building an effective learning pipeline to your high school/club.

Please, move away from teaching the way YOU were taught and start giving kids more effective learning experiences.  No standing in lines; no ignoring the net for more “effective” drilling, because the reality of the net will be there in EVERY serve and EVERY third hit; NO coach-controlling tosses and “sets” so things look pretty, which steal contacts from your players, unless your 11U’s look like the Thai kids already…and develop a love for the game that cannot be taken away.

If you think about development before winning for your kids, the REAL game is 2 v Better Players. Get them their reps, reading, decision making and volleyball IQ increases with skills over the net, and delay playing 6 vs 6 until they have had as much time, even years, playing smaller sided games…just like our national men’s and women’s teams do a lot every training season.